Adopting a stepchild is a rewarding, life-changing experience. When your new spouse has children, adopting these children as your own cements your new family’s bond. If you are considering adopting a stepchild in Washington state, you will need to clear several legal hurdles.
In order to adopt a stepchild, you must have consent from both of the child’s legal parents. For example, if a man wants to adopt his new wife’s daughter, he will need permission both from the girl’s mother and father.
This is important because adoption terminates the rights of the other parent. If the stepfather adopts the daughter, the biological father will no longer have any rights as a parent. This means that there will be no obligation for the biological father to pay child support, and the biological father will lose any legal rights to decide how the girl is raised.
In addition, the stepfather will also need the consent of the child’s mother, and may need the daughter’s consent if she is age 14 or older. Once all necessary parties have signed their consent to the adoption, the proceedings can continue. The adoptive parent will need to fill out a series of adoption forms, submit to a home inspection from the Department of Children’s Services, and attend a hearing.
If Consent is Refused
If a parent refuses to terminate their parental rights and consent to the adoption, there is often little that the potential adoptive parent can do. Natural parental rights are the most important rights a person can have; absent a showing that the biological parent is extremely abusive or neglectful, it may not be possible to finalize an adoption without consent.
In the same way, older children have the right to refuse to be adopted. If the daughter did not want to be adopted by her stepfather, the court would give great weight to her opinion.
Absent or Unknown Parents
Sometimes, the other biological parent is unknown or cannot be found. When consent is impossible for these reasons, the adoption case can still move forward.
When the father is known, but cannot be found, anyone seeking to terminate his parental rights must do everything possible to serve him with notice of the pending adoption. If local process servers cannot find him, then the notice should be sent to his last known address. If there is no response and he cannot be found through any traditional means, a notice can be published in a local paper advising the community of the termination and adoption proceedings.
If the father is unknown or has not legally established his rights to the child, then any person who is alleged to be the father must be notified of the pending adoption. If the alleged father cannot be found, a notice of the legal proceedings can also be published in the newspaper in this situation as well. If the birth father fails to responds to the notice, his parental rights can be terminated.
In most cases, the most difficult part of adopting a step child is obtaining the necessary consent from the other biological parent. Once consent is received, it is a relatively simple matter of filling out the correct forms and attending a hearing.
At Ashby Law PLLC, we share your excitement about creating a new family. Our experienced Washington family law attorneys can help you navigate the adoption process, and will make sure that all of the requirements are followed.
For a consultation with one of our experienced Washington adoption lawyers, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.